I am really really dumb. I just read this story about a speech that was shut down at a London University that was set up by a Catholic group to discuss Catholic teaching on sexuality.
In today’s highly politicized environment we have come to expect the accusation that any discussion of Catholic teaching on sexuality is an attack on homosexuals.
So I read this and at first, like an idiot, I was…not shocked…but looking for some rational explanation that the university at least used as cover. But there was no cover. It was Catholic, therefore bad, and then shut down.
Oh, they used the Indiana Jones excuse “No ticket” for the shut down but then publicly proceeded to admit they aimed to shut it down.
In October last year, I was scheduled to give a talk to the Catholic Society (or ‘CathSoc’) of University College London (UCL). The subject was to be the right of Catholics to have their own view on the contentious issue of homosexuality. I had prepared to explain what the Catholic teaching on homosexuality was, why the Church actually preaches and argues against homophobia, what the implications for this teaching are for Catholics in public life, and why civil liberties (such as freedoms of speech, religion and association) should be respected.
Ironically, given the subject matter, the talk was cancelled at the last minute by officials of the UCL Students’ Union (UCLU).
While the official reason was that the requisite paperwork had not been completed, it soon became clear that the union’s sabbatical officers, alarmed and angered about the fact that the talk was taking place, had deployed any means necessary to have it stopped. This was no mere pedantic paper-pushing; it was censorship-by-bureaucracy.
UCLU’s external affairs and campaigns officer, Hannah Webb, on a thread about my talk on the UCLU LGBT society Facebook group, celebrated the fact that ‘[t]his was cancelled!’. After being asked how this was achieved, she answered, ‘Their speaker hadn’t been preapproved, so fairly easily’. In explaining this, she revealed that the event ‘was flagged up’ – that is, someone had complained about it – and consequently ‘several of us were alarmed that such a speaker had been allowed through the external speakers vetting process’. As a result, the union officials went out of their way to look into the event and when they found out the Catholic Society had not been given approval, they moved to stop the event altogether. As Beth Sutton, the UCLU’s women’s officer, boasted on Twitter: ’[W]e managed to stop it [the talk] because union protocol wasn’t followed.’
When I asked Webb on Twitter whether she’d have been so legalistic about any other event, she replied that she would for those events that are ‘on the boundaries of what UCLU allows and requires discussion’. Such a discriminatory attitude certainly puts to bed any last-minute cancellation fears for unconfirmed speakers at the UCLU baking society, or the badminton club, but something tells me the UCLU Friends of Palestine and assorted anti-war groups are probably similarly at ease.
Webb argued that the union has to have an ‘awareness for student welfare’, which recognises that ‘[p]eople have a right to feel safe on campus’. Were anyone ‘homophobic’ allowed to speak at a student society event, she said, this would involve making ‘an oppressed group [in this case, gay people] feel even more unsafe’, and thus such speech must be prohibited.
Dan Warham, the UCLU democracy (!) and communications officer, went even further, saying that he would ‘happily do anything to stop people speaking if they were causing distress to a member of the union, at a union society event, especially if those students identify as part of a liberation group (ie, LGBT+)’. Thus, the right of a society like the CathSoc to hear the Catholic teaching on sex and sexuality explained to them is trumped by the perceived need for privileged minority treatment.
But here’s the thing. Why should we be surprised when Catholic schools don’t even speak about the Church teaching on sexuality. Remember than one Catholic school in New York shut down a scheduled talk on Catholicism and in another school so many parents were outraged to hear Catholic teaching from a nun that the school apologized.
Think about that, a Catholic school apologized for teaching Catholicism.
So that’s where we are. So why should we expect better from the rest of the world?